40. The Captive Queen
"Has she awakened?"
Ariashal's heart froze. She knew that voice. Closing her eyes even more tightly, she was determined not to let them know that she could hear them; they might let some important information slip. Above all, she must learn the fate of her King.
"Not yet." That was one of the Elves; she recognized the voice of her attacker all too well.
"And the other?"
"We were able to get what you demanded, but we did not try for his head. We feared the arrival of the guards, and while we had already killed many of them, we did not wish to be slaughtered."
"Very well. Awaken her. I have much to ask."
"Echui!" ordered the Elf.
Obediently Ariashal opened her eyes. Her head still throbbed from the blow, but she forced herself to look up.
She was in a cave, or, rather, a cave that had been roughly hewn into something approaching a square. In front of her was an old, battered wood table; from the carving on the legs she recognized as having once been at the Keep. A lone candle-lamp burned atop it, its flickering light casting weird shadows across the stone.
They had tied her hands behind her, and bound her feet as well. Someone had also taken the precaution of tying her to a hard wooden chair. Whoever the King's attackers were, they wanted her alive and unable to flee.
Behind her she could barely make out more whispered conversation. The Elves, it must be the Elves; she could catch a few words and phrases as they spoke. She could not get enough of their tongue to know exactly what they were planning for her, but she knew it would not be good.
Someone else was coming; footsteps echoed on rock. Who was it? They had tied her in such as way theat she was unable to turn and face her attackers. It was probably just as well--she would spit and lunge at them, bite them if she could.
"You may go," said the all-too-familiar voice. "Your reward awaits you."
From the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of a hooded cloak, sword, boots. The man kept his face from her, even after he had taken his seat.
"So." The man bent towards her. "I have slain the Witch-King, and the flower of Rhudaur has returned to her master."
She looked up at her captor.
"Ferion?" she shouted. "You? You could never slay him! No man could slay him!"
"It was not I who fired the fatal shot, Ariashal. That was the Elves' doing. That, and this." He laid a plain arrow on the table, its head glinting dully in the light. "I found a smith in Cardolan willing to make weapons for me. Weapons empowered with one thing only: to slay the Nazgul. And I must say they worked better than I had hoped."
She stared at the arrow. It was a simple thing, an arrow like any other, with shaft, fletching and head; and yet this same simple thing had destroyed her life, shattered her family, stolen her lord from her.
"I was pleased to see you had taken an interest in our old grotto," continued Ferion. "Did you think I had forgotten our old amusements? I hoped that, once you started to repair it, you would eventually bring your family there as well. And I was right. My spies watched you and your husband with the children. I was beginning to believe that you would never get him there alone."
Herumor! They did not know about Herumor, and they must never know of Herumor, for while he lived he would protect the children. She managed to keep from speaking.
"When they told me that you were there alone with him, I knew it was my chance." Smirking, he retrieved the arrow. "It was very kind of you to get him to disrobe for us. That mithril shirt would have never been pierced."
Desperate, she grasped at the last bit of hope she had. "I do not believe you. I do not believe that you have slain him!"
"No?" He stood. "And what do you make of this?"
Triumphantly he opened his hand and let something fall to the table.
The black opal ring.
Ariashal fought to breathe. It seemed as though her heart and lungs had ceased to work; she could draw no air. He was dead, her lord was truly dead. All strength left her. If not for the rope she would have collapsed onto the floor.
"I have his armor and sword, too, if you would like to see them. That mithril shirt will do well for me."
"Ferion," she whispered, her voice breaking, "why? Why have you done this?"
"Why?" He scooped up the ring. "That thing you called husband was the most evil creature in all of Middle-Earth! His destruction assures that Rhudaur will again know its rightful King."
"Rightful king?" She managed to find her voice. "Rightful King? After what you had done to the land? How can you call yourself king? It was you who let the kingdom collapse into poverty and ruin! The King has worked hard to right that wrong!"
"What wrong? I am King of Rhudaur. I rule the land as I see fit."
"King? The only reason you are King is because you murdered our father!"
"What makes you think that? He was old and sick. It was his time to die."
"And my husband?" she demanded. "Was he old and sick as well?"
"You do not understand what you are saying." Ferion toyed with the ring. "By slaying the Nazgul we have rid Middle Earth of the last of its evils."
"Rid? How can you say that? Sauron lives still!"
"You lie!" Setting the ring down, he strolled towards her. "The Nazgul poisoned your mind. You would believe whatever he told you, no matter how baseless."
"He never lied to me."
"And you believe that?" Ferion laughed. The ugly sound echoed harshly on the rock. "You sincerely believe that, after thousands of years of corruption, he became pure and good in your arms? If that is so, then we must use your charms on more men! And your charms, my sister, are quite worthy."
Horrified, she realized that all she had on was the thin chemise she had worn into the pool. Torn and dirty, it exposed more of her than she wanted. Vainly she tried to cover herself.
Eyes narrowed, he studied her closely. "Yes, my fair sister, your husband did a fine job of preserving your beauty. No one would ever know that you had borne children. Look at me! He has kept your face young, too. Tis a pity you are my sister. I think I would much like having you."
"Filthy swine!" She managed to jerk the chair away from him. "Leave me alone!"
"Why? You are mine now, to do with what I will."
"You slaughtered my husband so that you might have me?"
"No." Ferion bent over her. "No, I had him killed so that I might regain my kingdom. But now that I see you--now that I see what you have become--why not? Turin Dragonslayer took his sister to wife."
"To the destruction of both!" Frantic, she forced the chair to lurch aside. "Let me go!"
"Go? Go where? You are here now, with me. No one will ever know if I do not wish them to know."
"You cannot keep me here! My son will find me and punish you!"
"Your son? He is lucky to be alive. I gave orders for the Nazgul's spawn to die."
"So it was not enough for you to kill my husband," she hissed. "You wanted my children dead too!"
"Of course, Ariashal. They are a threat while they live." He strolled towards the table. "Now, though, that threat is lessened. Without their father to instruct them, they are far more malleable. They can be trusted to return to Carn Dum, where they can rule their frozen city."
"So you will let them leave?"
"There is no longer any profit in their demise. So yes, they will go home. But my grandchildren will be returned to me."
"You? You neglected them! They were filthy and starving when they came to us!"
"Your husband forced that upon us."
"And I suppose he also forced you to dine off gold!"
Ferion stopped. "You are beginning to annoy me, sister. You are no longer in a position to say or do anything. I will have word sent to the Keep, and tomorrow we will meet with that steward of your late husband. We will make a treaty then."
"He will want proof that I am well."
"And proof he will have. I will bring you with me, to show that you are unharmed. And for your sake, you had best be in good spirits."
"Then you had best free me!"
"Free you?" Leering, he sauntered over to her. "Oh, you will be free. I will put you in a room where you will be free to walk and sleep."
"And if I should escape?"
He laughed again. "You think you will escape? Consider that these caves are full of men, my fair sister. And they are not all as particular as I am."
Someone was coming. Ferion dragged Ariashal's chair back, so that she could not see the new arrival.
"My Lord." The voice was hard, with a touch of sinister mirth.
Ariashal managed to turn her head. She caught a glimpse of a brown tunic, lightly spattered with fresh blood.
"Yes?" demanded Ferion.
"The Elves have been--rewarded."
"Very good. My fair sister has been expressing her delight at her rescue."
"Is that so." He shifted closer. His heavy beard reeked of cheap ale. "Pretty girl, ain't she?"
"Oh, yes, very much so. And she will be staying with us. Has her room been made ready?"
"Yes." He snickered.
"Very good. I will be guiding her there shortly. I expect that she will wish to dine alone with me tonight. She has had a trying day. You may go now."
"All right." The man withdrew, whistling as he left.
"Listen to me." Ferion bent over her. "I do not wish to put you on display for all the men to see. I will cover you with my cloak to bring you to your room. Once there, you will stay inside until I come for you. You will not scream, or try to escape. Not that you would get very far," he added. "The Hillmen have been without their women for a long time, and you, my sweet sister, are far finer than any woman they know."
Ariashal sat still while her brother cut her free. She said nothing as he draped his cloak over her, did not move while he pulled the hood over her face. When he ushered her out of the room, she walked quietly.
He led her into a large, natural cavern room, where many men had spread out bedrolls to make a crude barracks. Weapons were stacked along one wall, blades and bows alike; quivers of arrows were stowed in a heap. Several lanterns and torches were hung around the walls, their yellow light lost in the upper reaches of the cave. A few iron braziers were alight, glowing hellishly red in the gloom.
Was she not Queen? These men were her subjects, were they not? These were her soldiers to command, not Ferion the traitor's. For a moment she considered tossing aside the hood, revealing herself to them, commanding them to obey their Queen. And they would have no choice but to follow her, for she was their rightful ruler. She would be Regent, now, ruling in Imrahil's name; but she was still Queen.
A sudden burst of laughter and swearing caught her attention. Some of the men had been gambling, and their game had just broken up. The sight of the sweaty, filthy, heavily-bearded Hillmen jolted her back to reality. She might be Queen, but in here she would be nothing more to them than a rough tumble, to be used quickly and handed over to the next man in line. Ariashal lowered her head and followed Ferion from the room.
He led her through some narrow passages, past a room where some men seemed to be preparing food, down a steep incline, and finally into a small chamber. Its sole occupant, an elderly, one-eyed man, lurched to his feet as they approached.
"This is our new prisoner," explained Ferion. "No one is to bother him in any way. I alone will speak to him. Do you understand?"
Curious, the old man eyed Ariashal. "Did you say ‘him', sir?"
"Yes, fool! Ask again and you will lose that other eye."
The old man shambled backwards, finally dropping to his chair.
"Come along," ordered Ferion.
Ariashal could make out a rough corridor, could just see a row of four doors leading off into the darkness. How many more there might be, she could not tell. Ferion took her to the second room and pushed her inside.
This was, indeed, a cell. A small lantern hung from the ceiling, its cheerless light illuminating an old cot, some blankets, and a small bucket. On the cot was a basket with some apples, a chunk of bread, and a leather-wrapped bottle. The room itself was only slightly longer than the cot, and perhaps twice as wide.
"You will stay here," said Ferion, his hands on her shoulders. "There is some food for you, and water. I will come for you when I have to go to see Adzuphel, that steward of yours. I think you know better than to try to escape, but I will lock you in anyway. Oh, and one more thing."
"My cloak." He roughly pulled it off her, tearing her dress even more severely. "Good night."
She listened as the door closed behind her, as the key turned in the lock, as his footsteps faded away. For a moment she stood still, until the full horror of what had happened crushed onto her. Shaking, sobbing, she collapsed onto the cot and cried.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.